Study: Today’s Dads Are Engaging More With Their Kids Than Ever Before

It's not entirely new. Ever since "Mr. Mom" way back in 1983, dads have been getting their due for all they do.

But a new study finds that dads are more involved with their children's lives than ever before.

“We found that today’s dads spend more time, provide more care and are more loving toward their kids than ever before,” said Kevin Shafer, Brigham Young University sociology professor and a co-author of the study, according to BYU News. “Most dads see themselves as playing an equally important role in helping their children as mothers do. At the same time, however, there is a group of dads who believe they are to be breadwinners, disciplinarians and nothing more.”

The new study, compiled by sociologists at Brigham Young University and Ball State and published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, tabulated data from nearly 2,200 fathers from a national study on fathers of children ages 2 through 18.

The researchers assessed fathers’ perceptions of negative masculine behaviors by evaluating responses to a variety of statements, such as “It is essential for the child's well‐being that fathers spend time interacting and playing with their children” and “It is difficult for men to express warm and tender affectionate feelings toward children.”

The results from the responses showed, on average:

  • Fathers of younger children engaged with them several times a week
  • Fathers of older children engaged with their child between once and several times a week and knew a lot about their child's activities
  • Fathers of younger and older children only sometimes engaged in harsh discipline
  • Fathers of younger children stated that warm behaviors toward their child are “very much like me”
  • Fathers of older children acted warm toward their child between often and always
  • Finally, fathers of older children also generally agreed that their child turns to them for emotional support

The study, "Does Adherence to Masculine Norms Shape Fathering Behavior?" concludes that adhering to "masculine norms" — like the model from the 1950s when fathers were often AWOL and considered the households sole disciplinarian — just doesn't work.

"Results suggest that fathers who more closely adhere to masculine norms are less involved in instrumental and expressive parenting and are more likely to engage in harsh discipline than fathers who are less masculine. Adherence to masculine norms also reduces the likelihood of embracing the new fatherhood ideal, and adherence to the new fatherhood ideal at least partially mediates the relationship between masculinity and father involvement. Overall, despite changing expectations for fathers, hegemonic masculine norms continue to shape fathers' behavior," the study says.

The study finds, though, that the dads of today are "more emotionally available and nurturing toward their children."

“Fathers continue to navigate changing social expectations,” said Lee Essig, another co-author of the study and a BYU graduate student. “As current social trends are pushing for men’s increased familial involvement, we see more fathers stepping up to engage more actively in their children’s lives in various ways.

"As we teach boys and men to be more emotionally aware and cultivate emotional well-being, these men and boys will be able to become better fathers for their children, as they will be able to provide for them not only through financial contributions, but by being emotionally and mentally present for their children and their wellbeing," Essig said.

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